Continuing Tales

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 5 of 17

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Civilised Existence

Days drifted by, one by one. It didn't take long for her to stop testing the boundaries, and he was both delighted that she would not be going, and saddened that she was forced to stay by a power he couldn't understand. She, on the other hand, seemed to be content. He wished he could be.

The evenings were cool, and now that a form of peace had been reached, it didn't feel so much like torture to spend time together at the fireplace.

Belle still buried her nose in a book from time to time, while he occupied himself with spinning. Still, when his straw ran out, or her words were spent, they often found they both glanced at one another at once, wordlessly seeking company.

"You know you're sitting in my chair?" Rumpelstiltskin inquired, leaning on the back and looking down at her one such evening.

"Mm." Belle placed a ribbon as a marker in her book and looked up at him. There was a touch of mischief around her eyes. "It's very comfortable. I can see why you like it."

"I would quite like it back, dearie."

She smiled. "I'm sure you would." She reached down behind her and pulled out the cushion she had been leaning against, depositing in front of her chair. "But I'm using it for now, so you can sit there."

He looked at her, then at the cushion on the floor in front of her. She had an amused, half-challenging expression on her face, her eyebrows raised, as if she didn't believe he would humble himself to sit at her feet. "There?"

She shrugged. "I'll make a deal," she said, and he stared at her. She laughed out loud. "Oh, shut your mouth, Rumpelstiltskin. You look like a codfish. You're not the only one around here who can make deals."

He almost laughed, self-consciously. "A deal, then?" He crouched down beside the chair, his fingers curling over the arm. She didn't shy away from him. Never afraid of him, this pretty, brave creature. "And what, pray, is your deal?"

She leaned closer to him, and he almost pulled back. Her face so close to his, as it was that night, the night he almost lost his power and maybe, possibly, might have had the love of the woman in front of him. He forced himself not to move, even though he could feel her warmth in the air.

"You tell me a story," she whispered impishly, her eyes dancing. "Something good enough to make it worth my while getting out of my chair."

"Your chair, indeed?"

Her smile lit his world up for a moment. "Well, my bottom is currently on it. By the rules of chair-ownership, whosoever sits upon a chair has a claim to it."

He frowned at her. "That's not a law I know of."

She laughed. He always took pleasure in her laughter. It was strange the way her face creased and folded into a wonderful new arrangement, and her eyes shone as bright as fireflies.

"Of course not," she said. "Papa and I made it up." She tugged on a strand of his hair, which made him stare at her all the more. "Do we have a deal?"

"A story?"

She nodded. "Mm-hmm."

"Any story?"

"Anything you like," she said. "It just has to be something special because I know a lot of good stories."

For a long time, he gazed at her, then he pivoted on his foot and swung around in front of the chair, to perch on the cushion. He folded his legs, crossing the ankles, and wrapped his arms around his bony knees.

She shifted on the chair behind him, propping her elbow on the padded arm.

"Something special," he murmured, looking into the fire.

If she said anything, or did anything, he didn't notice. He was lost in recollections, seeking a story worthy of her.

He knew at once what he wanted to tell her, but the thought of it made his chest ache, ancient scars still raw. He rocked on the cushion, gazing into the flames, and spoke in a voice little over a whisper.

He told the tale of a man who went to war to defend his home, his wife, his newborn child. The man wasn't a special man, or a clever man, but he wanted to protect what he loved. He wasn't a brave man. He saw horrible, terrible things, and he fled from them, knowing that if he didn't, he would never see his wife, or that precious little child again.

The wife, she left. No one loves a coward, after all. But, he said, the son, he grew and was strong and brave and everything his poor, frightened father wasn't. They wanted him for war. A little boy, too young to understand that death was waiting.

That foolish, reckless man would have done anything for his son. He did. He tried. He was twisted around in the wind by a creature more powerful and malicious than he could understand, and he became strong, powerful in turn. He could have crushed anyone who wanted to take his son. But the child could no longer see his father in the powerful and dangerous man.

Rumpelstiltskin's voice faded to nothing.

"And," Belle said softly, "he lost him."

Rumpelstiltskin barely moved. The tiny nod might have been a flicker of the flames on his face. "Lost him."

A small hand was laid on his shoulder, and squeezed gently.

He drew a breath, forced a shrill giggle. "A good story?"

"A sad story," she replied. She slipped out of the chair. "We had a deal."

He looked up at her, and tried to smile, but it felt like it dropped from his face as soon as it touched his lips. "Keep it, dearie," he said. "It fits you better than me."

She gazed at him for a moment, then sat down on the cushion beside him. He frowned at her, uncertain. "I'm cold," she said, lifting his arm and pulling it around her shoulders as if he were some kind of living shawl.

His hand froze, fingers rigid above the bare skin of her arm, and she made matters worse by nestling against his side as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

"Belle?" he said uncertainly. "Wouldn't a blanket be better?"

She patted his chest. "Quieter, certainly," she said, tucking her head against his shoulder.

He looked down, the dark wisps of her hair tickling under his chin and against his neck. She gave a great sigh, then reached up and gently pressed his hand down to rest against her arm.

"I'm not made of glass," she said. "You won't break me by touching me."

His fingers were trembling treacherously, and he licked his lips. This was not what he had foreseen when he tried to reclaim his chair.

She prodded the middle of his chest. "A little less frozen-in-terror if you please. Some of us would like to relax and enjoy the fire."

He gave a nervous giggle. "Easier said than done, dearie."

She lifted her head to look at him in amusement. "Silly darling," she said, then snuggled back down.

He blinked at the fire, too astonished to even be scared, all the breath in his body escaping in a rush, leaving him limp between the girl and the chair.

"There," Belle said with smug and sleepy triumph. "Better."

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 5 of 17

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